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Players protest Maricopa community colleges’ decision to drop football

PHOENIX — A sizable group of people protested Tuesday a board decision to drop the football program at four Maricopa County community colleges.

Videos on social media showed demonstrators — including many student-athletes — marching around the Maricopa County Community College District building in Tempe near State Route 143 and Interstate 10 while the board held a meeting inside.

One of the chants heard was, “Athletes matter.”

Many protesters carried signs that read, “Save JuCo (junior college) football, save our education. We deserve a voice.”

Joe Kersting, the former head football coach at Glendale Community College, said the protest was held to ask the board for an explanation.

“At this point, we’re trying to get some transparency on the issues that have been brought up,” he said. “There are issues related to academic performance of football programs compared to other programs and, from the data that I have been able to find, that information was not correct.”

A task force that reviewed 10 schools’ athletics programs recommended the district cut its schools’ football programs last year, citing funding issues.

Football in the district cost $770,000 each year to operate, which equated to 20 percent of the district’s total athletics budget, and was responsible for more than 50 percent of related insurance costs.

The district was not the first in the nation to make this decision: Only 65 member colleges — out of 530 total — participating in the National Junior College Athletic Association sponsor football programs.

Kersting said the board argued the sport finished last in several academic metrics, something he claimed was untrue.

“On success rates, football is probably second to most of the other male sports that are offered,” he said.

Kersting said other issues — such as costs to run the facilities or upgrade them as needed — didn’t seem to hold water.

“If a football stadium needs to be upgraded or have some different things repaired, that’s going to happen if there’s a football program or not a football program because they’re not going to blow up the stadium and they’re going to keep the facility on their campus, I’d assume,” he said.

The district said costs to maintain the schools’ programs could exceed $20 million in “needed capital improvements and associated expenses.”

Kersting said his program used to welcome about 150 student-athletes each year. He said he did not understand why the schools would accept such a drop in enrollment, especially given the impact the players have on the community.

“Our student-athletes are people that innately are driven to succeed and when you guide that drive into their academics, into their personal lives, into their professional lives, their careers, they accomplish some incredible things.”

KTAR News’ Ali Vetnar contributed to this report.

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